- Historic Sites
The Great North Sea Mine Barrage
An extraordinary World War I naval operation is recounted by the commander of a decaying coastal steamer crammed with a terrifying new explosive
April/may 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 3
On our way back across the Atlantic we passed through the combined fleets lying in Scapa Flow. The British had arranged a little celebration for us. The crews of all the allied ships were assembled on the upper decks, the bands played and the men cheered us as we steamed slowly by. Vice Adm. Sir William Pakenham, incidentally a great-grandson of the Pakenham who fell at New Orleans, signaled: “You take with you the gratitude and admiration of the battle cruisers.”
As we reached the surrendered German ships a dead silence fell. There were the ships whose crews had mutinied at the Kiel, refusing to put to sea. Strict orders had been given to maintain absolute silence while passing them; no jeers nor gibes of any sort. The orders were quite unnecessary. The predominant feeling of our crews was curiosity rather than hatred or exultation.
We sailed for New York anticipating a triumphal entry. After all, we had done something entirely unique in the history of warfare. Then our orders were changed. We were switched to Yorktown, Virginia. Running up Chesapeake Bay, we met a sister ship of the Old Dominion Line plodding along on her regular trip north. Despite our military mast and war paint, she recognized us as the old Jefferson . There was a great scurrying around on her decks, and her crew and waiters lined the rails waving their hats, towels, dishrags, and anything they could pick up. She dropped astern, and our triumphal entry was over.
The Mine Force had ceased to exist.